30 August: Disaster … Anger … Fear … Retreat

Bethel Baptist Church
Worship Service in the building
30 August 2020

Service available on Youtube, or as text (below), or for audio see the Podcasts page.

Welcome

Welcome to Bethel Baptist Church this Sunday 30 August. Harry and Mandy are away today – let’s pray that the Lord bless them and refresh them at this time. I’m Graham Steel, and Harry asked me to prepare the message for this morning.

Dylys and I have been working our way through 1 and 2 Chronicles in our daily Bible study together in recent weeks. I have chosen the passage for today from that study because I found this particular portion so striking – it really feels like God is being unduly harsh, and because the commentary that we were using identified a key point in the passage which I had skipped over when I first read it, and which gives us the real reason that David and the people suffered a disaster on that day. It is a lesson that is going to stick in my mind for a long time to come.

Word

Disaster … Anger … Fear … Retreat. Please read 1 Chronicles 13.

A brief history of the Ark of the Covenant

1. Construction

Please watch the short video for an idea of what the Ark may have looked like.

2. History

I refer to the following web site for a history of the Ark from a Judaist perspective. See particularly the section entitled “History of the Ark” for what happened between its construction and the time of David.

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-ark-of-the-convenant

Disaster

It seems so unfair! David really wanted to honour the Lord and put the Ark of the Covenant at a central place in Israel. It was such a great day of devotion and service to the Lord. It is obvious that David made a mistake – he overlooked the law of Moses and decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem his way. But he did it with absolutely the best of intentions. He had a united people who all agreed with him. He had sourced or prepared a new cart – only the best will do for this magnificent occasion. They were celebrating before God with all their might, making lots of music. Surely God should have been looking down and taking great delight in His people. Why, why, why was it necessary to strike Uzza fatally when he had simply reacted spontaneously to save the Ark from damage?

Have you ever been sincerely devoted in doing some great service for the Lord, or perhaps showing mercy and giving help to somebody in great need, only to see everything go horribly wrong? Have you ever cried out in despair, “Lord, I was doing my very best to honour You. Why have You let this happen?”

It is hard to relate it to a mistake, but we suffered a series of disasters in the month before lockdown. My mother was living in a care home in the West Midlands at the time. I went down to see her on a Saturday in the middle of February – I think Dylys was not feeling very bright, so she let me go on my own. So I spent a good morning, though not very exciting, with my Mum. I left her when she was having lunch and drove over to see my sister and her family, who lived nearby, and I had lunch with them. It was quite windy in the afternoon when I drove home. I arrived at home, and as usual, I opened the garage door in order to reverse the car into the garage; but then as I reversed towards the garage door – BANG! I had not noticed the wind bring the up-and-over garage door down 45 degrees – I smashed the rear windscreen and bent the garage door. I was quite upset – it had felt a long day, and just wanted my tea and a short, quiet evening before going to bed. Instead we had to sweep up all the glass and put an old shower curtain around the tailgate of the car, over what had been the rear windscreen, and make the phone calls to the insurer. Then I had to do my best to secure the garage door, as it was no longer possible to close it.

In the weeks prior to that, we obviously had a leak somewhere in the boiler system in the house – we were having to top up the boiler daily. It was due to be serviced two days after the incident with the car. The engineers came on the appointed day, and condemned the boiler. So we faced the expense of a new boiler, as well as getting the car and the garage door sorted out. Two weeks after that, at the beginning of March, with the car having been repaired, I drove to work. After an hour or so in the office, Dylys got in touch – she had fainted whilst standing in the bath, collapsed, and hurt herself badly – she said that there was blood everywhere. So I drove home and took her to Accident and Emergency. She was admitted and spent the night in hospital. One consequence was that I had to take a couple of unscheduled days off work.

We had a week in Cornwall planned for the end of March, when we were going to see family in Cornwall and get some relaxation. With lots of talk about Coronavirus, we were not sure we would be able to follow through the plans to see family – my Dad and his wife are in their mid-80s and as such vulnerable people, my niece has a young daughter and wanted to keep her safe. In the days running up to the break, the Government advised everybody to avoid all unnecessary travel, so we cancelled the holiday, and with the date being so close, and technically we were not yet in lockdown, we lost all our money on the accommodation. Why was the Lord letting all these bad things happen to us just now?

I can’t answer that question absolutely, but it did strike me that the situation would have been a whole lot more difficult if the incidents with the car, and the boiler, and Dylys fainting, had happened just a few weeks later when we were in lockdown.

So what was David’s real mistake? There is something more fundamental than being familiar with the law of Moses. It was our commentary by Andrew Thomson, a Baptist pastor in the UK, who pointed out what I had missed:

Chapter 13 begins with David consulting every leader about fetching the ark of God from Kiriath-Jearim. Back in 1 and 2 Samuel it’s noticeable how often David ‘inquires of the Lord’ (1 Sam 23:2, 4; 30:8; 2 Sam 2:1; 5:19). It is usually a sign that something has gone wrong or is about to go wrong when David fails to ‘inquire of the Lord’, and that holds true here. In addition, we have the phrase ‘If it seems good to you’ (1 Chron 13:2), and for added emphasis our historian comments, ‘the thing was right in the eyes of all the people’ (1 Chron 13:4). Sadly, whether it was right in the eyes of the Lord doesn’t seem to have occurred to David. He asks whether it seems good to the people, but doesn’t ask whether it seems good to the Lord. There is no doubt that David wants to bring the ark to Jerusalem for the best of reasons. In fact, he is encouraging the nation to seek the Lord in a way that they had not done ‘in the days of Saul’.

“Opening up 1 Chronicles”, Andrew Thomson, Day One Publications

That made me question myself: do I consult with people, even good Christian people, to do something honourable for the Lord, and overlook the important matter of approaching Him in prayer? Am I guilty of pursuing what I have decided to do myself, with the very best of intentions, to honour the Lord, when I should be seeking His will?

Anger

So David made a mistake. The Lord struck Uzza, it feels unduly harshly. At the time, David was still oblivious to his mistake. His initial response was one of anger:

Then David became angry because of the Lord’s outburst against Uzza; and he called that place Perez-uzza to this day.

1 Chronicles 13:11, NASB

We are not told a lot about David’s anger. But certainly when things go wrong, we can feel angry. “I was doing my best! Why has the Lord let this happen?” Anger is not in itself wrong – it is a natural emotion. The Lord Himself was angry with Uzza. It can be right to be angry about injustice. But anger is dangerous and must be kept under control. In Ephesians, Paul writes:

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.

Ephesians 4:26-27, NASB

One response when things go wrong is to get angry and do something rash. Then we have let the devil take control.

Fear

I do not know for how long David was angry, or how he expressed his anger, other than to give the place where it happened a permanent name, reminding people of what had happened there.

David’s next reaction was one of fear:

David was afraid of God that day, saying, “How can I bring the ark of God home to me?”

1 Chronicles 13:12, NASB

This is not surprising. It is as though God had spoken the words, “One false move and you are dead!” Whereas anger can lead us into active sin, fear has more of a restraining effect. It is good to fear God in the right way, but not in a way that disables and paralyses us.

Retreat

In David’s case, fear led to retreat. He and all the people had been bringing the Ark to a place of prominence in Jerusalem, in great celebration. Now, instead, he took the Ark to the house of Obed-edom, which I am guessing was close to where the incident happened. It turned out to be a great blessing for Obed-edom, but for the priests and everybody else, the Ark was off the scene for the time being. Instead of a place of prominence in Jerusalem, the Ark was consigned to the quiet of a private house.

A lesson learned

Mistakes are not entirely bad if we learn from them. In that sense we can put a positive spin on mistakes and regard them as opportunities to do better in the future.

We have been reading 1 Chronicles 13, where Andrew Thomson states in his commentary that David enquired of the leaders and the people instead of enquiring of the Lord. In the following chapter, chapter 14, there is trouble with the Philistines, and we are told on two occasions that David enquired of the Lord, and God gave him success:

David inquired of God, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? And will You give them into my hand?” Then the Lord said to him, “Go up, for I will give them into your hand.”

David inquired again of God, and God said to him, “You shall not go up after them; circle around behind them and come at them in front of the balsam trees. “It shall be when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then you shall go out to battle, for God will have gone out before you to strike the army of the Philistines.”

1 Chronicles 14:10, 14-15, NASB

In 1 Chronicles 15 we see that David has learned his original mistake:

Now David built houses for himself in the city of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it.

Then David said, “No one is to carry the ark of God but the Levites; for the Lord chose them to carry the ark of God and to minister to Him forever.”

1 Chronicles 15:1-2, NASB

So in summary we need to spend time in prayer, enquiring of the Lord what He would have us do and how we should do it. It is good to encourage one another, discuss, and gain from the wisdom of those around us. But it must never be at the expense of spending time in earnest prayer.

We need to be ready to recognise our mistakes. Of course it is better not to make the mistake in the first place. But we can learn a lot from mistakes. If I unintentionally upset somebody, it can be a lasting memory – I do not want to do that again. If I make a mistake in a practical job, maybe gardening, decorating, DIY, it is good experience, and the memory should help me avoid the same mistake when doing that job another time.

Amen

Benediction

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39, NASB